Presented by Geordie Theatre, Imago Theatre and Screaming Goats Collective. Performed at D.B. Clarke Theatre, Nov. 15-24, 2019
As the new musical Mythic, a thoroughly enjoyable and mostly innocent take on the Persephone legend, comes to a close at the Segal this weekend, there’s the chance to catch the other, grimier side of the coin with Persephone Bound, a co-production between Geordie Theatre, Imago Theatre and Screaming Goats Collective.
For despite the sweet consensual romance at the heart of Mythic, the Persephone legend is really about abduction and rape, with Hades snatching the young demigod and imprisoning her in the Underworld, save for several months a year when her liberation causes the earth to bloom into spring.
In Persephone Bound, circus performer, actor and co-writer Léda Davies re-imagines Persephone’s plight as that of a modern-day student for whom, after an incident at a campus party, the boundaries of consent and assault are horribly clear, less so for those invested with the authority to decide such matters.
Not the least of Davies’s impressive performance is the way she delivers her angry, defiant and traumatised testimony while being violently yanked around by, or serenely going with the flow of, the aerial straps to which she’s mostly attached. Persephone’s abductor and rapist Hades (Eric Nyland) has been transformed into a glowering silent presence whose dress, make-up and imposing physique give him the air of a medieval executioner.
Though silent, Nyland isn’t coasting through the production. He’s the one strenuously controlling the aerial straps, a job that’s usually hidden in the wings during circus performances, but which here adds an extra layer to questions of just who is in control and how much Persephone/Davies is submitting to, or pitting herself against, such control.
While Hades remains intimidatingly taciturn, Zeus, the self-styled arbiter of the case, lets loose with a stream-of-consciousness-and-bad-faith series of disquisitions, providing his own percussive accompaniment on a drum kit nestled in a jagged, Iron Throne-like affair. Played by Jed Tomlinson, who co-wrote the piece with Davies and Michaela Jeffery, Zeus comes over as a bombastic showman with more than a touch of a jaunty pro-wrestling commentator.
For all its horrors and moments of dark uncomfortable comedy, this short, sharp shock of a show (it runs at just over 45 mins), elegantly directed by Micheline Chevrier, also has an unexpected beauty and grace, and even a glimmer of hope. Persephone’s descent into the Underworld is compared to a plunge through the ice of a river. But Spring will come again, and as Persephone grips the straps and looks yearningly up at the light glowing through the hole in the ice, we’re left with the impression that she will haul herself out of Hell to be seen, and to demand her story be heard, on the earth again.